Nearly half the league has reached the halfway mark, and it’s time to take stock of this year’s wild fantasy hockey season… but, really, which season really has gone as we predicted? That’s part of the fun, so let’s put the first half in the rear-view mirror and see which names have been the biggest surprises.
This is Part 1 of 4, so stay tuned for the other parts that will be coming over the next couple days, highlighting impact rookies, rotisserie league unicorns and candidates for either a bounce-back or regression in the second half.
All player information quoted are for Yahoo leagues.
Nazem Kadri, C, Avalanche (Pre-season rank: 198)
Kadri’s career point-per-game average is 0.67 and he’s more than doubled that this season, averaging 1.46 points per game. With 51 points he ranks fifth in the league in scoring and he’s already 10 shy of tying his career-high set in 2016-17 with the Leafs. It’s been an incredible performance in a contract season for Kadri, and also more incredible considering his controversial playoff performance in which he found himself suspended yet again for an illegal hit that led to some speculation that the Avs may view him as a liability. He’s due for a hefty raise, which he may not get from the Avs, but he’s been producing like a top-line center on the second line – Nathan MacKinnon endorsed Kadri for the All-Star Game and got his wish – and a big reason for the Avs’ success this season.
Ryan Johansen, C, (Pre-season: 231) and Matt Duchene, C/RW, (Pre-season: 277) Predators
The big contracts for Johansen and Duchene (both $8 million cap hits) looked like it would doom David Poile’s tenure in Nashville, the only GM they have ever known. Instead, both players have bounced back from horrendous seasons, especially Duchene, who seems to relish playing on the right wing, where he has fewer defensive responsibilities – he was never good at that end of the ice anyway – and free to utilize his speed coming down the wing. Duchene’s 0.97 P/GP pace is the second-highest of his career since he finished 17th in Hart voting with the Avs in 2013-14; Johansen’s 0.83 P/GP pace is also the second-highest of his career since his lone All-Star Game appearance in 2015.
Tage Thompson, C/LW/RW, Sabres (Pre-season: 539)
There were a ton of questions with the Sabres lineup, and chief among them was who would they play down the middle in the post-Jack Eichel era. Sam Reinhart, who had played center in major junior, was also traded, Casey Mittelstadt looked more comfortable on the wing and Dylan Cozens wasn’t ready for such a heavy workload. Drafted as a center but moved quickly to the wing when he turned pro, the Sabres experimented with Thompson at center not really knowing what they were going to get, but it’s paid huge dividends with a breakout season with 28 points in 38 games. His production is the reason why the Ryan O’Reilly trade looks far less lopsided today, and though center is arguably the deepest position in fantasy hockey, Thompson’s LW and RW eligibility provides fantasy managers with a lot of flexibility and he’s available in over 75 percent of fantasy leagues.
Troy Terry, LW/RW, Ducks (Pre-season: 404)
Terry burst onto the scene at the 2017 World Juniors when he scored three straight times in the shootout against Ilya Samsonov and Team Russia to send Team USA to the gold-medal game. It was one of the most clutch performances in the history of the WJC, but after that, the fifth-round pick from 2015 became a bit of a forgotten prospect, riding the shuttle bus between the NHL and AHL for two seasons. He scored only 20 points in 48 games last season and saw younger prospects Trevor Zegras and Max Comtois (who led the teami n scoring) have a much bigger impact, but there’s no denying Terry deserves his spot at the All-Star Game this season. We keep waiting for a regression and he faltered a little in December, but has since regained his form with six points in five games in January. Terry’s 24.4 S% is absurd, but players can stay hot for an entire season and so far there’s still no real indication that Terry will slow down even though the rest of his team certainly has.
Jesper Bratt, LW/RW, Devils (Pre-season: 321)
Bratt is having the breakout season nobody is talking about, leading the Devils with 34 points in 36 games. There are sexier names on the roster like Dougie Hamilton, Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, but perhaps what’s been most amazing about Bratt’s production is that 28 of his points were scored at even strength. That’s an indication that his numbers aren’t inflated by soft matchups or even ample power-play opportunities. Maybe it’s because no one really pays attention to the Devils, but Bratt is rostered in just 52 percent of fantasy leagues even though he’s tied-50th in league scoring.
Timo Meier, LW/RW, Sharks (Pre-season: 225)
Meier’s pre-season ranking was low because the Sharks are headed for a rebuild – they’re kind of in denial – but it was also justified because he went from a breakout 30-goal season to 22 goals then 12 goals last season. He’s bounced back in a big way, tied seventh in the league with 21 goals alongside teammate Tomáš Hertl, including a franchise-record five-goal performance. Those who are strong believes that shooting percentages is a strong indicator of future success will point to Meier’s career-low 7.7 S% last season, which has bounced back to 13.8 S% this season.
James Reimer, G, Sharks (Pre-season: 376)
When the Sharks snatched up Reimer and paired him with Adin Hill, we were all thinking the same thing: cannon fodder. The Sharks weren’t expected to be good and needed two warm bodies in the crease while they figured out the next step, so it was very surprising when Reimer’s strong play not only earned him the starting job outright, but also made him fantasy relevant with 12 wins and a .914 Sv%. A loss against the Lighting meant Reimer’s numbers took a hit – prudent fantasy managers shouldn’t have started him against them, anyway – but in a dogfight Pacific, Reimer’s definitely worth a streaming start in certain matchups.
Ville Husso, G, Blues (Pre-season: 372)
There were always hints that this was coming, but there’s definitely a goalie controversy brewing in St. Louis. Craig Berube kept his cards close to his chest, but breaking away from his rotation and giving Husso his second straight start, which resulted in a 5-0 shutout win against the Kraken, was definitely the right move. It was supposed to be Jordan Binnington’s net and he was supposed to have a huge workload, but Husso has forced his way into a bigger role. The Blues are deep, talented and well-coached, and that makes Husso worth rostering right now should he really run away with the No. 1 job.
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